Rafael Nadal’s marathon five set victory over Daniel Medvedev last Sunday (30/1) to win the Australian Open and take him to an unprecedented 21st Grand Slam title, was the final tale of an Australian Open that will live long in the memory. Right from the get go with Djockovic’s vaccination scandal, through to Nadal making history, there was drama at every turn.

Saturday 29th January is also one that will live long in the memory of Australian sports fans, as Ash Barty ended a 44-year wait for a home winner in the singles at the Open. Despite Barty’s incredible achievement, however, it was arguably the second match at the Rod Laver Arena on that day that created the greatest fanfare among the Australian fans. This encounter saw the unseeded Australian pair of Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis win their first doubles Grand Slam by beating another Australian pair in Max Purcell and Matthew Ebden. Their unexpected run was made even more impressive by the fact that in their three previous Grand Slam doubles appearances together, they had won just one match. Kokkinakis obviously played superbly, but the run also highlighted Kyrgios’ supreme talent, with the doubles format really emphasising his incredible hand speed and imperious serve.

Earlier in the tournament, John McEnroe described Kyrgios as ‘the most talented tennis player in the last ten years’, and many feel that Kyrgios should be able to translate this level of talent into winning Grand Slam singles tournaments, arguably the pinnacle of the sport. However, his second round defeat to Medvedev at this year’s Australian Open meant that it’s now been seven years since Kyrgios last reached a Grand Slam singles quarter-final. This wouldn’t have been what many imagined his singles career would look like when they saw a 19 year-old power past Nadal at Wimbledon back in 2014. This has led to suggestions that Kyrgios is wasting his talent, something that will arguably increase after the sporting world saw his talent and ability to perform under pressure during the doubles victory.

“He only played two matches at this year’s Australian Open singles, but in that time he managed to fit in an underarm serve between his legs […] and set off on a victory lap around half the court”

But why should there be such a strict set of rules around what defines ‘fulfilling your potential’? Kyrgios may not be winning the biggest singles titles, but he’s certainly providing some of the greatest entertainment. Tennis is entering a new and slightly scary era. For over fifteen years now, the sport has been blessed by arguably the greatest generation of talent it’s ever seen, with the likes of Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal, and Roger Federer ruling with total hegemony, not to mention the likes of Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka. These are players who have served up sporting feast after sporting feast, just think of the 2012 Australian Open final between Djockovic and Nadal, or the 2019 Wimbledon final between Djockovic and Federer. Their excellence has enabled them to transcend tennis and become household names.

In a similar ilk to the post-Usain Bolt world of athletics, however, tennis is struggling to replace these generational talents as they leave the sport. Despite Federer now being 40, Nadal 35, and Djokovic 34, the trio has won 18 out of the last 20 Grand Slams. As talented as the likes of Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, and Dominic Thiem are, they’ve so far struggled to displace the old guard, and they certainly haven’t become household names beyond the world of tennis. Medvedev is arguably the closest to breaking this hold, having beaten Djockovic to win the 2021 US Open, as well as taking Nadal all the way on Sunday (30/01). Despite this, he’s yet to really transcend the world of tennis, and he’s far from a popular figure due to comments that have included accusing the Australian Open crowd of having a low IQ, or goading a booing crowd at the US Open in 2019.

“Kyrgios is exactly what the sport needs. He gets the crowd off their feet, and his outrageous moments of skill get tennis talked about in wider circles”

On the other hand, it certainly can’t be argued that Kyrgios has failed to capture the wider public imagination. Sadly, there have been occasions when this has been due to the darker side of his games, such as his on-court rants, or the accusations of Kyrgios tanking matches, such as his second-round encounter with Mischa Zverev at the Shanghai Masters in 2016, which subsequently earned him an eight-week ban. Whilst there will always be an element of that in Kyrgios’ game, often the crowd adore him due to the level of flair with which he plays his tennis. He only played two matches at this year’s Australian Open singles, but in that time he managed to fit in an underarm serve between his legs against Liam Broady in the first round, and after winning an outrageous point against Medvedev in the fourth set he set off on a victory lap around half the court. It is a near-guarantee that Kyrgios will entertain, with the ABC headline after his match against Medvedev reading, ‘Even in Defeat to Daniil Medvedev, Nick Kyrgios served up box office entertainment’.

His greatest level of entertainment in this year’s tournament came in the doubles alongside Kokkinakis. Their run created an incredible atmosphere around Melbourne Park, and has led to an unprecedented level of hype around a doubles partnership, such that Australian Channel Nine chose to show their doubles match over Nadal’s quarter-final against Denis Shapovalov. At a time when the changing of the guard is happening rather slowly in tennis, Kyrgios is exactly what the sport needs. He gets the crowd off their feet, and his outrageous moments of skill get tennis talked about in wider circles.


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McEnroe was certainly right about Kyrgios’ talent. Not many players on the tour have the ability, or even the audacity, to pull off some of the shots that he produces. He could easily be a multiple singles Grand Slam winner, yet you increasingly feel as though he won’t put in the required commitment to reach the pinnacle of his sport. To label him a failure because of this, however, shows the one size fits all approach that is often taken in sport.

Of course, winning singles Grand Slams is a highly significant achievement in tennis, but the significance of winning the Men’s doubles title certainly shouldn’t be sniffed at. On top of this, the reputation of mavericks like Kyrgios shouldn’t revolve entirely around the titles they’ve won. He goes out to enjoy himself and to entertain with his tennis and, in terms of wowing the crowd, there are few better in the business. He described winning the Australian Open Men’s doubles as “a memory that we are never going to forget”, and so who could begrudge him for enjoying playing alongside his best mate. Therefore, rather than criticising Kyrgios for what he’s not and labelling him as unfulfilled potential, we should appreciate him for the entertainer he is, because tennis is much better off with its maverick as the star of the show.